I like to stay in touch with the latest news from groups that work for social justice. Color of Change is one such group. They do good work and I usually look forward to receiving their emails. However, shortly after that horrible incident in which a Black man was choked by police officers until he died, the email I received had this subject line:
“Black husband and father choked to death by NYPD officers”
Why mention that he was a husband and father? Maybe the reason was innocuous. Or maybe the writer just assumed that the lives of people who are married or who have kids are inherently more valuable than those of people who are single or do not have kids.
It is interesting and sad, but not surprising, that a group that devotes itself to social justice, and that is probably careful not to practice discrimination against other groups, so blithely implies that single people and people with not kids just aren’t as worthy as other people. Their headline says to me that I am supposed to be more outraged if a man who was a husband and father was choked to death by police officers than if the man had been single with no kids.
It is an issue I’ve discussed before. Here’s what I wrote about the topic on p. 228 of Singled Out:
What is the Life of a Single Person Worth?
After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States government created a fund to compensate the families of the victims. Compensation was calculated separately for each victim, based in part on projected lifetime earnings and other sources of money. In addition, each family was paid a standard $250,000 for pain and suffering. The final component was an extra $50,000 for spouses and for each child. According to these calculations, the lives of single victims were automatically worth less than those of married victims. The $50,000 that would go to a married victim’s spouse would not go to any living person who cared about the victim who was single.
The Victims’ Compensation Fund declared in cold, hard numbers that in contemporary American society, the life of a single person is worth less than the life of someone who is married. That’s only one of the reasons I find it interesting. The Fund also made another set of values unusually clear: A relationship with a spouse is considered worthier than any other adult relationship, including even ties to parents or siblings. Said the mother of one of the 9/11 victims, “When they did this formula, why didn’t they consider the parents? My daughter-in-law was married for five years. We had Jonathan for 33 years.”
The person in charge of the excruciating task of assigning a dollar value to victims’ lives, attorney Kenneth Feinberg, had second thoughts about the matter after the job was completed. In the book he wrote about his experiences, he concluded that if Congress ever decides to create such a fund again, all victims should be valued equally.